Educating the Veterinary Students of Tomorrow

Intensive Farming

Intensive farming, sometimes known as factory farming, is a system which strives to maximise the yield of animal products whilst minimising the cost of production. Emphasis on 'low cost' and the societal demands for greater volumes of food have both contributed to the rise in modern day intensive farming.

Intensive farming usually relates to poultry, eggs and pork production. The UN estimates that these types of farms account for 72% of poultry, 42% of egg and 55% of pork production globally. There is now also an ever-growing number of large scale dairy farms. In the dairy industry, zero grazing farms have surged in popularity in comparison to traditional systems. A zero grazing system involves cut grass being supplied directly to cattle instead of allowing them to graze freely on pasture. Cattle therefore spend most of their life indoors which maximises their energy intake and prevents loss of energy to the environment. This in turn raises welfare issues and can be seen as unethical.

Significant disadvantages of intensive farming include:

Overmedication - Animals are often given antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease in crowded conditions which contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans as the antibiotic residue enters the food chain. This is carried out regardless of whether the animal is infected or not.

Animal welfare - Welfare can be significantly compromised as livestock are kept in crowded conditions and are therefore unable to exhibit their natural behaviour (one of the five freedoms). Additionally boredom can occasionally lead to aggression; tail biting in pigs can be very common.

Animal health - Animal health is a major issue due to high stocking density, which can lead to the rapid transmission of disease. It is also difficult to assess the health status of individual animals, potentially prolonging suffering more than necessary.

Automatic systems - These systems can fail and animals consequently will have no access to food and water, which may go unnoticed for a prolonged period of time.

On the other hand, there are some benefits to this farming technique - such as:

Predator prevention - Intensive farming provides an ability to prevent predators and disease vectors from coming into close contact with livestock, reducing the likelihood of disease transmission.

Veterinary care - Adequate veterinary expertise and herd health plans are usually in place to minimise disease and improve biosecurity to ensure maximum production and welfare.

Employment - Intensive farming usually requires high numbers of staff, creating more local job opportunities.

Conservation - As livestock are kept inside buildings and fed high concentrates, less agricultural land is needed therefore it can be used for other purposes such as conservation.

Welfare - Many supermarkets that are supplied by intensive farms have health guidelines and schemes such as ‘Red Tractor’ to promote welfare. Inspections are routinely carried out to ensure these guidelines are met. Conditions such as ventilation, temperature, humidity and nutrition are monitored and controlled to ensure maximum comfort and reduced stress for all livestock.

In conclusion, intensive farming is overall on the rise due to an increased demand for meat, as a result of the growing population. The long-term goal is to maximise output at the lowest possible cost, with the greatest level of food safety. However, there may be many ethical considerations associated with the methods involved, despite there also being a number of benefits.

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